Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry feels to me like an almost desperate attempt to be different. It intentionally utilizes perhaps the most overused setting and premise in the anime industry as of late, and then tries to put its own spin on it in order to make it stand out from the crowd. I say "attempt" however, because unfortunately it never quite lives up to its own potential due to having a tendency of not focusing on its own strengths properly, and thus indirectly making it somewhat generic in the end, even though that's exactly what it's supposed to try its hardest to avoid.
The story takes place in a magic academy, and it only takes about 2 minutes and 30 seconds into the first episode before the MC, Kurogane Ikki, walks in on a girl, Stella Vermillion, in her underwear. Yeah I've never seen that development before. One thing leads to another, and the two of them eventually end up in an official duel where the loser has to become the winner's "slave". Ikki promptly defeats her in style, and thus immediately scores himself a sexy girl as his personal servant before the end of the first episode. Or at least that's the official verdict, but in reality the two of them are quite friendly with each other, and it doesn't take long before a full-blown romance begins to blossom in-between them.
And this is how Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry aims to be special. By this point we should all know what a typical action/fantasy/ecchi/harem magic academy light novel anime adaptation looks like, not to mention how absurdly many there are of them. This series however tries to kick out the harem aspect, and replace it with romance. Like an actual established romance from very early on in the story. That's an incredibly rare thing to find in any anime, let alone an action-oriented one, and it's a quite refreshing thing to see.
As far as the characters themselves go, Ikki is supposedly the weakest student in the entire school, nicknamed the "Worst One" by the pupils. However, this is strictly because he lacks magical skills, but on the other hand his prowess with the sword is second to none. And sadly that ends up being a mostly negative trait as Ikki thus ends up being an incredibly overpowered protagonist anyway, and there is so much plot armor throughout the fights in this anime that it really doesn't have a whole lot of tension in them. That aside he's an all-round good guy who has a lot of fans and supporters. In that sense he reminds me a lot of Shiba Tatsuya from Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei, and I can't really consider that a good thing. However, the way he normally acts towards Stella is very respectable I think, and that probably has to be considered the most important thing in the end. Stella herself on the other hand is not only one of the top students in the academy, but also a fiery redhead who is light on the tsun, heavy on the dere. She's a bit too submissive to be my type personally, but I know many people who like her a lot, and she's also got a pretty stunning body. My one problem with her as a character is that she seemingly falls head over heels in love with Ikki in a split second somewhere in-between episodes 1 and 2, but for no apparent reason. As cute as their romance is, I can't help but feel that it started off awfully unnaturally. It almost feels like the author was impatient at getting his dream pairing up and running, and thus he kind of just forced the two of them together in the beginning.
Of course those two aren't literally the only characters in this anime, and this is where we find the first of two problems I have with this anime. Namely, why are there so many other girls in here that are not only prevalent, but also in love with Ikki? Like really? First you make such a big deal about how this is a pure romance anime and not a harem, and then you *still* insist on having a bunch of other girls ogling the MC with lustful eyes? What's the point? We already know with absolute certainty that Ikki x Stella is the established main coupling in the story, so why do you have all these other girls as well? Are they there just in order to cater to certain target audiences, despite the fact that those people would know that their favorite girl has already lost the love game before it's even began? Make up your damn mind already; is this supposed to be a harem or not? It's like it's pretending not to be a harem but it actually is one. You can't just both have the cake and eat it, seriously. I mean if they were just there as friends, classmates or whatnot it'd be one thing, or if their feelings towards Ikki are just there in order to create some light love drama and make Stella jealous or something then I could understand it, but that's not the case here. Instead it's literally just for harem romcom shenanigans, which ought to be the last thing Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry should have in it given its premise.
My second issue with this anime lies with the action elements. Taking place in a magic academy, naturally there is a lot of dueling going on in-between the students. In fact... there's too much of it. Let's be real here, the one thing which Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry has going for it in comparison to other anime with the same setting is the romance. And yet despite that I swear it's spending more time on magic duels than romantic progression. Furthermore, there's still the simple fact that we got a pretty seriously overpowered protagonist in Ikki, so there's very little excitement in the duels themselves since you always know how they're going to end before they've even began. His abilities oftentimes feel like asspulls too as there are numerous special moves of his which are brought out seemingly out of nowhere in order to turn the fight around. There's also this one scene where at one point he's lying nigh-unconscious in a huge pool of his own blood, only to be in top tier fighting condition and kicking ass a minute later. Like really, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that that's simply impossible. The few times where we get to see fight scenes where Ikki is not involved however, then it's actually a lot better. Especially the magic duel in episode 10 was a treat to watch.
Anyway, the point is that the entire action/fantasy part of the anime feels almost meaningless a lot of the time. It's predictable and most importantly it doesn't really add anything noteworthy to the romantic part of the story at all. It just drags the romance down rather than complement it. Similarly, like mentioned earlier, the pseudo-harem elements are equally pointless, and does nothing but distract from the one thing which you're probably watching this anime for to begin with.
So if you put all that together, what can you conclude? Well, like I said initially, Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry is an attempt at taking the most overused premise in modern anime and adding a real romance plotline to it. And that's pretty much what it is. But there is no real sense of compatibility in it. The one thing which makes it worth watching is the romance. Almost everything else in it is average at best. So then I can't help but ask, was there really any point in using this setting to begin with? Why do the action, fantasy and harem elements even exist? Why is it taking place at a magic academy in the first place? Because seriously, this story could just have been an ordinary school-life romance anime taking place at an ordinary high-school with no dueling, no magic, no villains, nothing like that. It could just have been a realistic romance story between Ikki and Stella. That's all it's worth watching for as it is, and there'd be so much more focus on that in an everyday setting compared to what we got. It's like the anime is focusing on its own weaknesses more than its strength in its current state.
Originality is an admirable thing, and I highly respect Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry for trying to be different. But being unique doesn't always mean being better, and in this case I really feel like it wasn't entirely successful. Sure, it's still definitely better than your typical magic academy anime, no doubt about that, but it's definitely worse than what it could have been if it was rewritten into a dedicated romance story in a normal setting. Or if you want a graphical representation of it, then:
Pure romance > Romance + battle harem > Pure battle harem
I.E: mixing good with bad certainly makes it better than just bad, but still not as much as just good. So to speak.
On the other hand, you can say what you want but the ending is pretty satisfying.